All posts by myaliyahstory

Critical care registered nurse from Dallas, Texas making Aliyah. Follow me on my journey, and fall in love with the land of Israel. Hopefully my story can inspire and encourage others to make return home as well. Feel free to send me any questions, or even your own story so I can share it here!

My Parents' Pilot Trip

I recently took my parents to Israel to visit my brother. It was the only time all three of us would be able to come. It was also the first time my parents had been to Israel since 2002. Needless to say, a lot has changed since then. There are many more stores with a wider variety of goods, traffic has skyrocketed, and thankfully, there are no more bus bombings. We were there to see my brother, but we also made it their pilot trip. This would probably be their only chance to see Israel before making Aliyah, and it was vital that they experience the country as it is now.

Our journey began with just my mother and I. My father had to work the day before Thanksgiving, so we went ahead to get settled before Shabbat. We landed on Thanksgiving Day, and schlepped our luggage with us to Givat Shmuel. We would be staying at the hotel Lev Yerushalayim, but check in was not until 3 pm. My friend was gracious enough to let us stop by her home and take us out for a delicious lunch. On our way back to her place, we were surprised by my brother, who had been let off early by the army that day. You can watch my mother and brother’s tearful reunion here:

Lone soldier and mom reunite

Once we arrived in Jerusalem, we took the light rail to our hotel. This proved to be quite the undertaking as it was a Thursday evening, and every Thursday evening the light rail is PACKED. In Israel, the weekend starts Thursday evening until Sunday morning. Everyone is getting off work and heading into Jerusalem to go out for fun. We just barely fit all 3 of us on the train, and I’m still not even sure how we brought our luggage.

We woke up early the next morning and rushed to the airport to pick up my father from the airport. We made it back to the hotel just in time for Shabbat. We spent Shabbat at the hotel, and went to the Kotel for maariv and shacharit services. Motzei Shabbat we went out to eat and shop around on Ben Yehuda street.

All together in Jerusalem

On Sunday, my brother needed to return to the army. I took my parents to Chevron for the first time. They absolutely loved it. They saw Maarat Hamachpela (my mother was overcome with tears at Rachel Imeinu’s conspicuous absence), we visited the Chevron Heritage Center, and we ran into the famous Ben Goldstein. Ben is a huge advocate for Israel and provides equipment for IDF soldiers such as winter gear that the army does not provide. You can check out his YouTube channel here, and please consider donating so he can provide more needed supplies!

Meeting Ben Goldstein at the Cave of the Patriarchs

On Monday we visited Givat Shmuel again, and met with a friend of mine for lunch and to speak about my dad’s employment prospects post Aliyah. One tip they gave was to take advantage of the connections you have- it’s all about who you know. Afterwards we went to the Jerusalem beach in Tel Aviv, where the sand is so incredibly soft it feels like powder! After we saw the sunset we headed over to Petach Tikvah and met with another friend of mine about employment opportunities and living in the Tel Aviv area.

My parents at the City of David

The next day, my parents took a tour of the City of David. In 2002, the City of David had not yet been discovered and excavated. But today, actual historic locations mentioned in the Tanach from more than 3000 years ago can be explored. Artifacts from King David’s palace were being discovered before their eyes. While this was happening I met with a friend and we listened to a couple of inspiring lectures at the Aish HaTorah World Center. After their tour ended, we returned to the Kotel and took pictures together.

Placing notes in the wall on behalf of people from Dallas

Wednesday morning we set out for Modiin. We met with a realtor who took us around the city and showed us a few apartments. He talked about the community, the cost of living, and local employment opportunities. We ate lunch at the mall, and returned to Jerusalem. Once there, my parents decided to see how well they could explore around on their own. They did pretty well, but they still have a lot to learn when it comes to interacting with Israelis!

We woke up the next morning and packed for our evening flight. It was our last day for activities. Once everything was packed we went on a tour of The Temple Institute. This experience was absolutely incredible! You aren’t allowed to take photos, or I would have shared some here. But the things we saw there were absolutely breathtaking. So many of the vessels are built and ready to go for the next Beit Hamikdash. Kohanim are being trained for all of their duties serving in the Temple. All that’s really needed is the construction, which will be soon B”H.

After this, we visited the Kotel one last time. There was a bar mitzvah celebration with lots of singing and dancing. Everyone who wasn’t part of the group was participating and celebrating, because we are all one big family. We exited the quarter and waited for our bus. Outside of the security entrance you could still hear the singing, the voices of our people united in absolute joy. I was overcome with emotion. I usually cry every time I leave Israel, but this time was especially difficult. How was I supposed to leave this place, my home? My home where I’ve never actually lived, where my brother is currently serving in the army, risking his life for it’s defense? When my parents are finally here with me, and we can all be together again? And I know in my heart, no in my soul, that I am meant to be here. My future is here, my family is here, my people are here, how can I possibly leave? I was sobbing under an olive tree when a woman from a Christian tour group came over to me. She hugged me and told me that Hashem has a plan for me, that right now I can’t be here because I still have a mission to fulfill. That my love for Israel is beautiful. And when the time is right, I’ll be able to finally come home. She followed this by showing me this video on her phone, and it was exactly what I needed in that moment. It’s amazing how we are all interconnected, and feel the same light that exists in Jerusalem.

Leaving this time was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. But I know I’ll be back, and one day it will be forever. But for now I will get ready, and fulfill my mission from Texas. My parents now have a better understanding of what it will be like to live in Israel, and are more prepared for their own journey. They too can’t wait until it’s their time to make Aliyah. May we all merit to live in Israel and see the Beit Hamikdash rebuilt speedily in our days.

Your Story: Natan Bessner

My name’s Natan Bessner. I’m 23 and I made aliyah in August 2015 from Montreal after spending a year at a yeshiva in Jerusalem. That summer Operation Protective Edge broke out, and the disconnect upset me so I decided to return to Israel ASAP. Growing up I went to a Zionist school, took part in Bnei Akiva, and my parents always fostered the importance of the Jewish State. All of these reinforced my need to get back.

After a year of college, I made aliyah to Jerusalem to be back in yeshiva while dealing with my draft. Being a Type 1 Diabetic, I was initially given the profile of 21 which means exemption from service. After submitting loads of medical documents and many visits to the Jerusalem and Tel Aviv draft offices, my profile was raised to 25. This allowed me to volunteer in a non-combat position. I drafted in November 2016, and served with an elite combat unit in the West Bank for my entire enlisted service, after which I signed on for an additional year in the Artillery Corps. My proudest moment would be when I got the award for being one of the top soldiers in my platoon. If I were able to serve in any unit it’s really a toss up between Yahalom (the elite engineers), Duvdevan (counter-terror and under-cover operations in the West Bank), or Shayetet 13 (similar to the Navy Seals).

I’ve been living in Jerusalem since I’ve made aliyah. It’s rather central to everything and I have family members who live in the city. Having made aliyah and only having worked odd jobs there wasn’t really any career transition, the army being my longest term job. The army does provide a pension plan for career soldiers, which I am now considered so I do receive that for the time I have remaining in the army. Not really the longest term plan, but it’s a start!

A couple of tips I’d give to people considering aliyah: thoroughly research the rights that come with aliyah and be open to people correcting your Hebrew. It cracks me up how far I was from getting words right.

Overall I’m very happy with my aliyah. I’ve met people from all over the world and experienced things I don’t think I’d experience anywhere else!

How To Start Your Aliyah Story

Make sure you are eligible for Aliyah:

All Jews are eligible to make Aliyah under the Law of Return. You will need to provide documentation proving your status to both Nefesh B’Nefesh and the Jewish Agency. This is usually just a letter from your rabbi attesting to your Jewishness. If you converted to Judaism, you are eligible for Aliyah whether you had a Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox conversion. You will need to provide proof of your conversion as well, so be sure to have your original conversion documents. Note that this means you are eligible for Aliyah, not that you will necessarily be considered Jewish in Israel. The Israeli Rabbinate only recognize Orthodox conversions from a select number of Diaspora rabbis. If you had a non-orthodox conversion, or your Orthodox rabbi is not on the approved list, you may have to go through another conversion process in Israel if you want to live as part of a religious community or marry another Jew within Israel. In addition to this, a non-Jew may make Aliyah if they have a Jewish spouse, parent, or grandparent.

Complete your Aliyah Application through Nefesh B’Nefesh (if you live in the US, Canada, or the UK):

This is actually a fairly quick and easy step to finish. Make an account with Nefesh B’Nefesh and browse through some of the questions on the application. The more family members on the application the longer the process will take, but all in all the website is very user friendly and simple to complete.

Speak with Nefesh B’Nefesh advisers through online meetings, and attend the informative webinars offered on the site for free:

Nefesh B’Nefesh advisers are extremely knowledgeable and experienced in helping people make Aliyah. As your Aliyah date approaches, they increasingly reach out to see where you are in the process and are available for any assistance you’ll need. There’s also an archive on their website filled with several hours of recorded webinars. These range over all kinds of topics, from finding a place to live and budgeting to healthcare and leasing a car.

Make a pilot trip (or several) to Israel. Get a feel of the different communities to help you figure out where you want to live:

I cannot stress enough the importance of making a pilot trip to Israel. If you are financially able to make a pilot trip before Aliyah- do it. If you cannot afford a pilot trip, reach out to Nefesh B’Nefesh and they MAY be able to help you find a way to get a subsidized trip. This is not a guarantee though. Pilot trips are essential for understanding where you are moving to, the culture, researching job opportunities, and schools for your children. I recently took my parents on their first pilot trip to Israel. More on that trip in another post. But making Aliyah without a pilot trip is like moving blind and should be avoided if at all possible.

Meet with the Jewish Agency:

You will need to bring your original documents in order for them to verify you are eligible for Aliyah. If you don’t live in the US, Canada, or the UK you will start your Aliyah process by contacting the Jewish Agency. Once you are approved by the Jewish Agency, you are in effect approved for Aliyah.

Set a date for Aliyah, and start packing!

What About My Dog?

I have a dog. Actually he belongs to my brother, but he acts like a family dog. His name is Romeo, and just as his name suggests he is extremely loving and affectionate. We could not imagine making Aliyah without him, he is as much a member of our family as any of us. It’s no surprise then, that he will be a part of our Aliyah story. In preparation for this, I researched what it will take to bring him with us.

Luckily bringing your pet with you to Israel no longer means having to leave it in quarantine for a period of time. As long as all of the conditions are met prior to your Aliyah, moving across the globe with your pet should be relatively simple.

Common types of pets such as cats, dogs, birds, rabbits, and gerbils are allowed, with the approval of the Misrad Hachaklaut (Ministry of Agriculture). More exotic pets must also be cleared by Reshut Hateva V’haganim (Nature Reserves Authority- for pets considered wildlife).

According to NBN, Dogs that unfortunately are not allowed entry into Israel include: the Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier (Amstaff), Bull Terrier, Fila Brazileiro, Staffordshire Bull Terrier (English staff),  Tosa  Inu  (Japanese  Tosa),  Rottweiler  and  the Argentinian Dogo.

You’ll need to make sure your pet is up to date on all of their immunizations and titers. They may also need to be micro-chipped (for dogs, cats, and certain other types of animals). The chip Israel requires isn’t usually used in the United States, so you’ll have to have your veterinarian special order them.

The last items you’ll need to get approval are a health certificate completed by a licensed veterinarian and an endorsement of the health certificate. The latter will need to be signed by a USDA Veterinary Services Officer.

The final hurdle in your pet’s Aliyah process will be El Al’s requirements for boarding the flight. There is a pet fee based on the size and weight of your pet and it’s carrier. Any pet weighing over 8 kg (including their carrier) cannot fly with you in the cabin. There is a special temperature controlled cargo hold for pets, just verify with the pilot that the temperature control is in fact switched on prior to take-off. Whether your pet is flying in cabin or in cargo, there are set dimensions for their carrier that must be in accordance. You’ll want to be very clear on all of the rules when it comes to travelling with a pet. I recommend speaking with an El Al representative or reading from their website.

How To: Learn Hebrew

Competency in the Hebrew language is the single most important skill you can acquire before making Aliyah. Does this mean that Aliyah is off the table if you don’t speak a word of Hebrew? No, it is fairly simple to get by day to day living in English, especially as a tourist or student. But for those making Aliyah consider this: what happens when you receive your electric bill, your army draft notice, or your lab results from your doctor all in Hebrew? How do you sign a rental contract for an apartment when you don’t understand what’s in the fine print? In some of these cases it helps to have a friend translate, in others it’s better to have a lawyer deal with any legal issues. Nevertheless, for any non-legal issues it is important to try to be as independent as possible. There are several ways to learn Hebrew, both before and after Aliyah:

  1. Find a Tutor- Learning from an Israeli tutor is an invaluable resource. If you have the basics down, start focusing on advancing your conversational Hebrew. It’s one thing to understand Hebrew when reading or hearing it. It’s quite another to be able to speak back in Hebrew, even more so using more advanced vocabulary. Challenge yourself to start speaking with an Israeli dialect, and to have as little of an accent as possible. If you do not have access to a tutor locally, try reaching out on some of the Facebook groups. Many people run a business tutoring people online through Skype, FaceTime, and Whatsapp.
  2. Online Language Learning Programs- After having a tutor, the next best thing for beginners is to learn through online programs. Some examples of these are Rosetta Stone, Duolingo, and HebrewPod101. I would recommend Rosetta Stone only for those just learning their letters and first few words. Duolingo and HebrewPod101 are a better choice for a long term investment, as they also teach more advanced vocabulary and sentence structures.
  3. Translate Israeli News Articles- Once you know the basics of Hebrew, you can begin to build your vocabulary by translating news articles from Hebrew to English. This process is long and often tedious, but it is effective.
  4. Watch Israeli Movies/TV Shows- You’ll hear Hebrew spoken more naturally in conversation, and it’ll be a challenge to keep up with the speed at which the actors are speaking! Another thing to try: listening to Israeli music.
  5. Take Advantage of Ulpan- Ulpan is an intensive Hebrew learning program offered to olim for free up to five months. You will be tested for your baseline, and then sorted into a class based on your proficiency. There are many different kind of ulpanim spread throughout the country, and each one offers something a little different to stand out from the rest. It is important to do your research into which ulpan will be right for you. Some things to consider are location, hours per day/week, and the target student population.
  6. Talk to Israelis on the Street- even when they want to practice their English upon hearing your accent, insist on conversing in Hebrew. This will also increase your vocabulary and usage of Hebrew slang terms. Here you will learn how to speak more like a local using the common vernacular versus the grammatically proper speech taught in ulpan.

How To: Travel Around Israel

Travelling around Israel can be a little tricky. Luckily, many of the street signs are in three languages (Hebrew, Arabic, and English) so you can easily find your way around.

Car: You can easily rent a car with your driver’s license from your home country. If you have made Aliyah, you’ll eventually need to get an Israeli driver’s license. If you have been licensed for at least five years, you will not even need to take the driving exam. Pros for driving: Freedom and flexibility to go anywhere in Israel, it is faster than taking a bus, and probably cheaper than using a taxi. Cons: Finding parking in the big cities, steep gasoline prices, driving in Israel (To say driving on the roads in Israel is dangerous would be an understatement), and if you’re not familiar with the area you may accidentally wander into an Arab village.

Bus: Israel has a very well-developed public bus system. In the main cities, most of the waiting times are between 5-20 minutes until the next bus. Moovit is on the app store, and it is essential to have in order to plan your route and find your stop when using the buses. The only con to using this app is you may have to type your destination in Hebrew on occasion. If you are unable to do this, Google Maps is a great alternative. In Jerusalem, if you switch buses within 90 minutes of first using your Rav Kav, each following bus is free. Just be sure to swipe your Rav Kav each time you get on the bus for validation. I’m not sure if the 90 minute rule applies to anywhere else in Israel, but I know it exists in Jerusalem.

Taxi: You can take a taxi in Israel, though it is very expensive. It’s also a bit of a gamble unless you know the driver is trustworthy. If you use a taxi, try to make sure there are other passengers in the car with you. Also, if they pick up on you being a tourist they will try to overcharge you. Insist on having the meter running, even if they claim it’s broken. Have an agreed upon price before you start your journey. Pros: Almost the same flexibility and freedom as renting a car, you don’t need to worry about parking, and you’ll have someone to talk to during a long journey. Cons: They will try to swindle you, and it can be a bit of a safety risk.

Tremp: Otherwise known as hitchhiking is something a lot of Israelis engage in. There are Facebook groups dedicated to tremping from city to city. This is a very dangerous method of travelling in Israel, and not recommended for people new to the land and the culture. Unfortunately some areas of Israel are not very developed, and this means there isn’t public transportation. So those who don’t have a car have to either carpool or tremp to get where they need to go.

Train: The method of using the train or light rail system in Israel is very similar to using Israeli buses. The 90 minute rule also applies here. Pros: Travel a lot faster, can also use Moovit. Cons: May be more expensive, not as many different places you can travel to using this method.

Airplane: There are three airports in Israel that are available for use: Ben Gurion near Tel Aviv, Ramon near Eilat, and the Haifa airport. Ben Gurion is the main international airport, and any flights that need to be redirected are sent to the Ramon airport. Getting to Eilat can be a four hour drive each way from Jerusalem, so while expensive it may be worth it to get a ticket from Tel Aviv and fly into Ramon if you’re planning a day trip.

Your Story: Jason Marx

I grew up on the coast of Cape Town, South Africa. After finishing school I was hungry for adventure, I wanted to learn more about Judaism as well as live on my own. I packed a bag at 19 and went on a gap year program in Israel, fully expecting to come back to Cape Town to start uni at the end of my gap year. 

I had a really life-changing first year in Israel. I focused on inner growth as well as learning in yeshiva because this was the first time in my life that I had the opportunity to do so. While in yeshiva I begin to travel the country visiting as many places as I could, especially for Shabbas. I began to meet the most amazing people living here, with fascinating and inspiring stories. The more I explored the land, the more I grew to love it and then it was all over- in a flash my amazing year in Israel was coming to an end.   

I felt that I’d gain so much in that year yet I had so much more I wanted to experience. The thought of college lingered over me like a black cloud, I wasn’t really even sure what I wanted to study. I realized that Israel could be my home, but I couldn’t even read Hebrew from a Siddur let alone speak it. One of the requirements for making Aliyah at my age was serving in the army- how was I supposed to do the army with no basic Hebrew?

After a lot of research, I found out that you have a year before the army calls you up. So I decided to make officially make aliyah while still living in Israel, a process that took about 3 months. I started looking at ulpans (places that teach you Hebrew) and I realized that the most effective way to learn a new language is to be immersed in it. Ulpan is great for learning grammar, but if you don’t practice it then you’ll never be able to speak it. So I decided to make a radical change and moved to an all Hebrew speaking Yeshiva. It was the first time I was living with Israelis, and in the beginning it was very tough and lonely. After about 8 months, my constant exposure to Hebrew had paid off. I’d learned to speak Hebrew fluently enough that I could understand my classes in Yeshiva as well as participate. 

All of that happened 7 years ago. I have just finished a 3-year degree. There are many things that happened in the middle that are beyond the scope of this article, but to make a long story short I can say that my aliyah was at times very difficult and lonely. But every year I integrate more into society, I make fewer mistakes both with the language and the bureaucracy, I connect more with myself, and most importantly I make deeper connections with our land and the people around me. With each new year here I strive to build and live a purpose-filled life. 

One of the most important things to having a successful Aliyah journey is to find a good community of people that you connect with. For me, after asking around about different areas where religious young professionals are, I found out about Givat Shmuel. It’s the largest student community in Israel with over 1500 students. Living here and making close friends all while studying has really made it so much easier and enjoyable living in Israel.   

I’m at an exciting new stage in my life where I’m actually about to finish university and embark on the next chapter in my story. If you are considering making a life change and taking the plunge and actually making aliyah I would implore you to come knowing there will be bad days but know that if you are willing to make this work it is no dream!     

If I had to give you a few tips from my personal experience I would encourage you to:

-Be open to trying new experiences and new things. Having the mindset that Israel’s culture should be like the county you are from will only disappoint you.

-Try and be positive and easy going, in Hebrew we say zorem…or go with the flow.

-Learn about how to budget and manage your finances. 

-Do ulpan, but know it’s not enough to learn the language. You need to find a way to immerse yourself in it so that you can practice using conversational Hebrew.

-This last point is one that’s quite literally changed my life, it’s helped me to land the position in the army that I wanted, a full scholarship to a university, a large group of friends and many other things… it’s a general tip not connected to aliyah but one that has positive consequences in any area of your life. Learn to be charismatic, in other words, learn how to connect to many different types of people. If you can do this, then any problem you face in Israel you will be able to use your people skills to find the information and help that you need. A good place to start is by checking out “Charisma on Command” on YouTube.

Aliyah was just the first step but the rest of the journey is still ahead. The key is to try to embrace the ups and ride the lows, because at the end of the day all we can do is live and try.